Team:Virginia/Public Education

Educational Videos

Synthetic Biology Video

Two of the main objectives of the iGEM Foundation and iGEM teams alike are to 1) further the field of synthetic biology in its reach of understanding and application, and 2) educate the public about the field and ease their worries so the scientific community may progress. One of the biggest issues between the scientific community and the public is trust. The public community, who has little to no background in fields like synthetic biology, are bound to have great doubts about fields that they do not fully understand. This video was made as an educational tool to help the public understand what synthetic biology is and what GEOs are, and to have a basic understanding of how it all works.

Biocontainment Video

One of the largest problems that inhibit the progression of synthetic biology is the lack of knowledge about the subject, specifically relating to biocontainment of GEOs. The public opinion on GEOs is one of ambivalence: some put great trust in the science behind GEOs, while others are uncomfortable with the potential of unknown outcomes. This video was created to level the playing field on the two ends of the spectrum, and explain briefly what GEOs are, the different types of biocontainment that exist, and what our project entails. *These videos were made solely for educational purposes and not for profit, we encourage all teams to share the videos and spread the word about synthetic biology and biocontainment. However, the rights to these videos and their audio belong to the Virginia iGEM Team and their creator, Austin Taylor Rivera.*

Building with Biology

We hosted a Building with Biology event in collaboration with Charlottesville Open Bio Labs. Building with Biology is an organization that promotes public education about synthetic biology. To accomplish this, events are hosted in which participants of all ages can familiarize themselves with core synthetic biology concepts through exciting activities. Participants rotate between various stations that focus on specific concepts. Younger participants are entertained with educational games while older participants can engage in discussions with professional scientists. As a team we participated in and helped lead the forum on Gene Drive at this event, an issue that was very relevant to our project. Along with the suggested activities provided by Building with Biology, we designed our own stations to specifically address biological containment concepts. We also created a brief powerpoint with interesting illustrations to engage participants in brainstorming potential applications for synthetic biology and biological containment. The majority of participants were highly engaged and seemed to benefit from the experience. The Building with Biology event was a great opportunity to discuss our passion with the public. We also had the opportunity to gauge public knowledge surrounding synthetic biology through organic conversation. The event allowed us to educate both the public and ourselves - we learned about the concerns that permeate public opinion on synthetic biology and what changes should be made to improve public receptivity to this burgeoning field.

As a component of the Building With Biology event, We designed a module using a robotic dinosaur to simulate a biologically contained organism. This activity was designed to teach attendees about the concept of auxotrophic biocontainment. We began with a wild-type dinosaur. This dinosaur was free to consume any food source, red or green leaves. We then asked the child to move the dinosaur to all the places it could live. After some “genetic recoding”, the dinosaur was only able to eat green leaves, a rare metabolite that was restricted in range. When we asked the child to move the dinosaur this time, they restricted the dinosaur’s range of movement to only areas that had green leaves. The green leaves acted as a crucial metabolite; the dependence on this metabolite acts as an example of induced auxotrophy. We explained that this dinosaur is similar to genetically engineered bacteria, that can be restricted to a particular area by only providing the crucial metabolite in this area.

Another part of our module developed for Building With Biology included a slideshow about biocontainment for kids to watch while getting refreshments or relaxing. Check it out below!